The UK National Cyber Security Centre, (NCSC) in conjunction with their US and Canadian intelligence counterparts, warned on Thursday that Russian hackers with ties to the Kremlin have been targeting coronavirus vaccine development since the early days of the pandemic.
The warnings were accompanied by a detailed 16-page document, outlining how Russian hackers might be attempting to steal information from researchers through custom malware and other exploits.
“We would urge organizations to familiarize themselves with the advice we have published to help defend their networks,” NCSC Director of Operations Paul Chichester said in a statement.
“It is completely unacceptable that the Russian Intelligence Services are targeting those working to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, added in a separate statement to the press.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany took a far more nuanced approach.
“We worked very closely with our allies to ensure that we would take measures to keep that information safe and we continue do so so,” she said, as quoted by AP.
Russia shot back, saying it had no idea what they were talking about.
“We don’t know who tried to carry out the hacking attacks in the United Kingdom, but Russia certainly has nothing to do with it,” Dmitry Peskov, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told reporters today, as reported by state-run Russian news network Tass.
“We continuously confront attempted cyber attacks against our computer databases, and those of our departments,” Peskov added. “Our agencies regularly repel such attacks, since it is a common problem. We strongly reject these groundless accusations against us.”
Western intelligence claims the group behind the hacks is APT29, also known as Cozy Bear, the same group that was found to be involved in hacking Democratic email accounts during the 2016 US presidential election.
Peskov claimed that “we know absolutely nothing about the group and who it is affiliated with,” when asked about Cozy Bear’s affiliations with the Kremlin, Tass reports.
The news comes after a Wall Street Journal report published in May claimed that Chinese and Iranian hackers were targeting US efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine. At the time, no specific hacking groups were named.
READ MORE: Russia is hacking virus vaccine trials, US, UK, Canada say [Associated Press]
More on hacks: US Officials: Chinese Hackers Are Targeting Vaccine Research